Forest owners pass their land to the next generation

Merrily Enquist planting trees with her granddaughter on the family’s Clackamas County tree farm. Photo by Lynn Ketchum.
Merrily Enquist planting trees with her granddaughter on the family’s Clackamas County tree farm. Photo by Lynn Ketchum.
OSU Extension-Clackamas Tree School, with indoor and outdoor forestry and woodland management lessons. Photo by Lynn Ketchum.
OSU Extension-Clackamas Tree School, with indoor and outdoor forestry and woodland management lessons. Photo by Lynn Ketchum.

Let’s say you and your husband own 80 acres of woodland. You’ve worked hard to build a tidy little tree farm, and your fondest wish is to leave the land as a legacy for your four children.

But wait. Your eldest lives in a big city 500 miles away. Your second is a single dad with two kids and a busy career. Your third—let’s face it—has never shown the slightest interest in the family property. And the youngest? Well, with a little training she might have the skills to take care of the land. But is that what she wants? And then, how will you be fair to the others?

Such scenarios are common among family landowners who attend Ties to the Land, a workshop developed by Oregon State Extension Service faculty and others to help families negotiate the emotional and financial pitfalls of succession planning.

“My parents were forest owners,” said Mary Sisock, “and I’m not. That tells you that my parents didn’t do the planning they needed to do.” Sisock directs the Ties to the Land program at OSU’s Austin Family Business Center. “Maybe if they’d taken this workshop, we would have found a way to keep that land in the family.”

In the Ties to the Land workshop, trained facilitators help participants express their feelings about their family land and their wishes for its future. For example, the exercise called Heirloom Scale lets each family member rate his or her attachment to the land, from 1 (it’s just a financial asset) to 10 (it’s a precious family heirloom).

“I’ve seen powerful moments from this exercise, said Sisock. “I know of a farmer who came with his grown son to a Ties to the Land workshop. This man rated his attachment at about 11 on the Heirloom Scale. He wasn’t a garrulous guy, and he’d never talked to his son about this. The son said, ‘I had no idea my dad had this love of the land.’ Both of them were tearing up at the end, and it completely changed the son’s idea of what should happen to the land.”

Learn more about Ties to the Land »

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